Thursday, September 18, 2008

Calling all Celebrities...You’re Good At What You Do but How Are You At Wine?

Originally posted on

Throughout the world, each and every wine producing country has a handful of celebrities that are adding winery owner or wine producer to their name. In Australia we find golfer Greg Norman, in California - Michael Andretti, Francis Ford Coppola and, according to rumours, Victoria and David Beckham can now be added to the list. In France, Gerard Depardieu has been involved in wineries for years. These days, in Canada, the numbers are growing each and every day. Dan Aykroyd became a majority shareholder in Diamond Estates Wines and Spirits years ago and it seems that with each passing week, there is something newsworthy relating to the company coming out. Diamond Estates Wines and Spirits is the company behind EastDell Estates, Lakeview Cellars and Birchwood Estate Wines in the Niagara Peninsula. Plans are underway to build the Dan Aykroyd Estate Winery on the site where Birchwood Estate Wines now stands and they have recently taken over 20 Bees Winery and DeSousa Wine Cellars. Now, aside from Dan Aykroyd’s major investment in our local wine industry, we also have guys like Mike Weir, Wayne Gretzky and Bob Izumi making contributions to the wine industry in the Niagara Peninsula. Now, when you ask a lot of wine professionals what they think of celebrity wines, a lot of them are sceptical – and with good reason. It is great that celebrities are trying to promote an industry, outside of their own, but if they do not take the time to invest in a good winemaker, the results could be disastrous.

My first exposure to celebrity wines had actually been on a trip to California years ago where I had a chance to try red wines from both Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Andretti. The red wine from Coppola was good with the meal we enjoyed that night and the Merlot from Andretti Winery was so intriguing that I bought a bottle which returned home to Canada with me and was served with Christmas dinner the following year. Knowing that my first exposure to celebrity wines was a pleasant one, I decided it was time to give the celebrity wines from Ontario a try. So, on a recent trip to the Niagara Peninsula, I stopped in at each of the four celebrity wineries to try their portfolio of wines to see if I was going to find good wine, bad wine or mediocre wine. Here are the results:

Dan Aykroyd Wines

These wines are currently available for sampling and purchase at Lakeview Cellars in Vineland, Ontario. Dan has plans to build his own winery, alongside the Queen Elizabeth Way, which will eventually be built to showcase these wines that, I have to admit, surprised me.

2006 Discovery Series Sauvignon Blanc 4 ½ stars out of 5
$14.75 + bottle deposit

Great tropical fruit nose with hints of stone fruit and gooseberry; Pear & gooseberry palate. Medium finish. Out of the white wines from Dan Aykroyd, this particular one was my favourite. Everything about this wine flowed nicely and makes it a perfect wine to pair with seafood, chicken dishes or your favourite Thai food.

2006 Discovery Series Chardonnay 3 ½ stars out of 5
$14.95 + bottle deposit

Great aromas - apple, peach. Palate is different than expected - slight mineral quality. This wine just did not have the same “flow” that the Sauvignon Blanc had. Although the apple and peach flavours did continue through, the surprising mineral quality of the wine was too much of a shock for my palate and left me feeling odd after trying it. Chances are, what it needed was a good food pairing - maybe a great herb crusted chicken dish?

2006 Discovery Series Cab Merlot 4 ½ stars out of 5
$16.75 + bottle deposit

Predominantly berry fruit and spice nose. Berry fruit, bell pepper palate with a slight smoky finish.
Good structure to this wine making it a great wine to pair with a wide variety of foods. Try pizza, sausages, veal scaloppini or a wide variety of pastas with this extremely food friendly wine.

2005 Signature Series Vidal icewine 5 stars out of 5
$79.95 + bottle deposit
Gold at Ontario Wine Awards 2008 & Wine of the Year

There is a reason why this wine is a multiple award winner. Every aspect of this wine had some unique characteristic to contribute that just made it – overall – a truly elegant wine. The colour in the glass was this amazing amber colour which I do not believe I have found in any icewine ever. The nose – well, this took a while to pin down – due to the sheer number of complexities going on here. Right at the beginning of your sniffing the glass, there is this almost unidentifiable, intriguing scent which took quite a while to identify. After ten minutes, we eventually realized that what we smelt was a roast turkey – or more specifically, the herbs within the stuffing of that turkey. It was very faint, it was only there briefly but there was no denying the hint of sage in the aromas. After the sage aroma disappeared, a powerful tropical fruit nose joined in and carried through to the palate where it was joined with a slight hint of citrus. There was great structure and great balance to this wine and it felt like it could continue on forever.

My next stop this particular day was at Wayne Gretzky Estate Wines. Now, I had previously visited this winery – for the Niagara Icewine Festival in January 2008 – and, I have to admit that a lot of the wines did not impress me. There was definitely a certain degree of scepticism on my part concerning these wines but I think I have managed to find the secret to making Wayne’s wines truly great – time! Take a look at my tasting notes from his variety of wines and you’ll see why I am saying this.

Wayne Gretzky Estate Wines

2007 Unoaked Chardonnay 3 ½ stars out of 5
A lot of the white wines I am noticing this year are coming across almost completely clear to the point where most people looking at a glass of wine are questioning whether it is wine, water or vodka they are looking at. This particular wine is bearing that same characteristic but from certain angles you do see a faint peach hue in the glass.
The aromas on this wine are incredibly muted. I asked the staff behind the tasting bar when this particular wine was bottled since it is the 2007 vintage which is fairly new on the shelves but it had been bottled a few months before so I was able to rule out any possible bottle shock. This particular wine just has a very subdued aroma making it hard to detect but the palate makes up for this diminished bouquet.
The palate is definitely what surprised me the most. There was a good balance of acidity and sweetness and it has great structure which means it will age well in the next 3-4 years. The main flavours were citrus and mineral making it a perfect wine to match up with Pork dishes, Cream sauce pastas or, for the more adventurous, Paella.

2007 Merlot 4 stars out of 5
This wine was a lot of fun – it is a typical Merlot in that it shares the same flavours and aromas as many of the Merlot’s from the neighbouring wineries but the great thing about this is that it is a ready to drink now wine. The aromas were mostly berry fruit – blackberry & raspberry – but there was just a very slight hint of vanilla which also translated into the flavours.
The wine has great structure and the tannins are just right so that your face doesn’t pucker up like you’ve swallowed a lemon when you drink it. The flavours are more berry, some oak, and a great hit of chocolate to make it really complex and give it a great finish. It would be interesting to see how this wine is doing in 2-3 years but you are definitely able to drink it now if you’re dying to try some of the “Great One’s” wines.
Pair this wine up with mild curry dishes, souvlaki, chilli, stew or even pork tenderloin.

2006 Meritage 4 stars out of 5
This wine is the total package – but instead of drinking it right now, I would put this one away for 4-5 years. It is a blend of 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc and 17% Merlot and the best of each of these grapes are fully displayed in this wine.
There is so much complexity to this wine that it is difficult to distinguish all the flavours and aromas but the major components are cocoa and berry fruit.
In the palate, those aromas continue and are added in with oaky spice and cassis. Medium tannins and great structure make this a wine that will age well and will also pair up well with the big meats when you are ready to serve open it up.

2005 Vidal Icewine 3 ½ stars out of 5
I had previously tasted this wine in January of 2008 at the Niagara Icewine Festival and, to be honest, I was not impressed at that point. I am very glad that I decided to revisit this wine when I visited the winery because I was rewarded with my patience. I’m a firm believer in aging Icewines – when I buy a bottle of icewine, I put it away for a minimum of six years and, in some cases, more than ten years, before I open it.
It has been almost eight months since I tried the 2005 Vidal Icewine and in that time frame, the aromas have developed more, the palate is no longer falling flat and the citrus and apricot aromas are developing nicely. I would suggest that if you buy a bottle of this you wait until 2010-2012 before you open it because you will definitely be rewarded for your patience.

2006 Shiraz Icewine 3 ½ stars out of 5
The colour on this wine is something else – it looks like the colour of oranges on the tree after a rainfall. I do not believe I have ever seen such an intense, vibrant shade of orange in a glass of wine ever. Now, this icewine is a year younger than the Vidal Icewine I just mentioned and, like it’s counterpart, it does need time. My suggestion is to wait until 2012 as a minimum to see how the apple, apricot and cherry flavours develop. Since it was made from Shiraz grapes, I would expect to see a little bit of spice in the palate after that time frame as well.

The next story I have to tell you is about Mike Weir Estate Winery and this is possibly one of the saddest stories I have to tell but it shows just how difficult a time new wineries have when trying to open a winery in our province. Back in the early years of this decade, Mike Weir joined forces with the owners of Creekside Estate Winery. With the help of their winemakers, they set about to create a line of wines that would bear Mike’s name where the proceeds would be donated to the Mike Weir Foundation. Mike had the immense good fortune of having two of Ontario’s most talented winemakers behind his dream – Rob Power and Craig MacDonald, who were recently awarded for their talent by being named Winemakers of the Year at the 2008 Ontario Wine Awards. The plan had always been that in the beginning, Mike’s wines would be available for sale at Creekside Estate Winery and, eventually, he would open his own showcase winery in the Niagara Peninsula with a retail space where his wine could be purchased. Well, the land was found, purchased and there were some production facilities put on the property but the members of the city council in the area made it increasingly difficult for this aspect of the dream to be realized. With the increasing frustrations and the opportunity to purchase land in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia presenting itself, the decision was made to move the winery to the west coast which is what the winery is in the process of doing. However, until December of 2008, the people of Ontario have the good fortune to be able to buy some of Mike’s wines at Creekside Estate Winery and, I have to tell you, it is absolutely imperative that you pick yourself up some of these delectable wines before they are no longer available in our province. Check out Mike’s wines and see what I found when I visited Creekside Estate Winery.

Mike Weir Estate Winery

2007 Sauvignon Blanc 4 stars out of 5
This is another wine that is almost clear in colour which is surprising because it has spent some time in oak which generally adds some colour to it. The aromas are intense – grass and gooseberry with a slight hint of tropical fruit. The flavours are crisp and clean like a good Sauvignon Blanc should be. There is a slight lemon quality to the wine and it has good structure and a nice finish.
If you are looking for a good value, easy drinking every day kind of wine, this is definitely a good candidate for the job.

2006 Pinot Gris 4 ½ stars out of 5
This is possibly the most vibrant colour, in terms of white wines, that I have had from the 2007 vintage in Ontario – it is a bright lemon yellow colour. The aromas seem a little muted but you can detect peaches, apricots, oranges and grapefruit coming out of the glass. The flavours are very alluring, have an underlying richness which is not common for Pinot Gris, which develops into a mostly citrus wine with a slight smoky character.

2007 Chardonnay 4 stars out of 5
Another almost clear coloured wine, the aromas are mostly floral and citrus in nature while the palate has a lovely cream base with some hidden minerality. The wine is not overpowering; it is very easy drinking and there are some spice components to the finish.

2005 Pinot Noir 4 ½ stars out of 5
Given that Pinot Noir, while on the vine, has some extremely dark grapes, it is not surprising that the colour of this wine is just as dark. The aromas can only be described as intense, dark and brooding – mostly beetroot and toasted spices – while the flavours are very deep and complex with violets and berry fruit being its main components. This wine is definitely silky smooth in the mouth and there is a nice hit of spice on the finish.

2006 Cab Merlot 3 ½ stars out of 5
This is quite possibly the only wine out of Mike’s that needs some aging to reach an optimum point. The colour is even darker than the Pinot Noir, the aromas and flavours are intense and the tannins are firm. All in all, this is a great candidate for aging and would be great to revisit in 3-4 years.

Before we go any further, I need to make mention to the fact that the following two wines – Mike’s two Icewines – are the reason why I am so sad that he is in the process of moving the operation to British Columbia. These wines will be EXTREMELY difficult to get our hands on once December has passed and there is just something so unique about these two Icewines that no one else in the province seems to be able to capture which makes Mike’s move to British Columbia a real shame.

2005 Vidal Icewine 5 stars out of 5
Everything about this wine is INTENSE! From the bright yellow colour to the apricot and honey aromas to the crisp and lively palate of citrus and tropical fruit, everything about this wine screams WOW! The wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks and, although I do not normally ask this question, the stainless steel tanks are all several years old. The reason behind asking this is because what I was tasting was not a typical icewine. A typical icewine is supposed to showcase a good balance of sweetness and acidity the entire way through the taste but this wine took a different path. The kick of sweetness lasted for the first third of the taste but then it quickly diminished leaving you tasting something as clean and crisp as a Sauvignon Blanc or a dry Riesling.
I am a big believer in aging Icewines but, in the case of these particular wines, I do not believe that extended aging would benefit this wine. I would not give it much more than three years of aging if any at all because it is drinking so incredibly well right now that extended aging may diminish its greatness.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine 5 stars out of 5
Just as the 2005 Vidal Icewine was intense in every way; the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine was interesting in every way. The colour was a slightly darker orange than Gretzky Estate Wines 2006 Shiraz Icewine – almost a rusty orange shade. The aromas were mostly toffee and raisins which translated into the flavours and was finished with a slight hint of citrus.
Like the 2005 Vidal Icewine, this particular wine took the same pattern where the first third was a great level of sweetness, followed by a that same crisp and clean feeling that the Vidal Icewine gave.

The final stop of the day was at Coyotes Run Estate Winery, where Bob Izumi has paired up with winemaker David Sheppard, Jeff Aubry and Patti Aubry to make a Bob Izumi White and a Bob Izumi Red. It would be easy to assume that since it has a generic name that it is a blend and may or may not be good but that was not the case with these wines.

Bob Izumi Wines

2006 Bob Izumi White 4 stars out of 5
I had originally thought that since the aromas were citrus fruits with a slight hint of honey that this was a blend of Semillon and Riesling. It turns out that in this particular vintage it was strictly a Riesling. The flavours were the truly interesting component to this wine. Initially, there was a slight sweetness but then the tastes changed to a point where they were almost tart. The major taste was lemon but it had some other citrus components to give it a slight complexity. It would be interesting to see if this wine would benefit from a slight amount of aging but it is perfectly ready to drink now too.

2005 Bob Izumi Red 3 ½ stars out of 5
Coyotes Run Estate Winery is known for their Pinot Noir and it is the major component in the Bob Izumi Red blending of grapes. The other grape in this blending is Cabernet Franc and by the aromas you can tell that both of these grapes are standouts. The Pinot Noir brings along smells of barnyard and forest while the Cabernet Franc brings the berry component out. The berry fruit continues on to the palate where there is good structure and firm tannins. This is a decidedly bold wine that would benefit from some aging in a wine cellar before it is ready to drink.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Check out that label...

Originally posted on

Have you ever noticed walking through a wine shop looking at the shelves that there are some very plain labels and there are invariably some labels that catch your eye? Every wine region has wineries who like to push the limits of the image they present to the people who will be buying their wines. The way some people will purposely shop for clothes that catch their eyes, there is a large group of people who choose their bottles of wine based on the outward appearance of the bottle.

Although it is possible to create appeal for a particular bottle of wine by choosing an unique bottle design, it is just as easy, sometime a little more practical and more cost efficient to become creative with the label design. This is especially the case when a winery chooses to create the label design themselves rather than have an outside company create their labels for them. With the emergence of a number of user-friendly computer programs that allow you to manipulate images, it is becoming infinitely more easy for a winery to create their labels which means that the creation of interesting label designs will see an upswing. In fact, the Ontario Wine Awards has a category in their competition that is exclusively about the label design of the submitted wines. In recent years, winners in this category have been Megalomaniac Wines, The Organized Crime Winery, Wayne Gretzky Estates, Flat Rock Cellars, Lailey Vineyard, Thirty Bench Winemakers, Norman Hardie Wines, Coyote’s Run Estate Winery and Pillitteri Estates Winery.So, what are the wineries looking for when they create their unique labels? It first needs to start with answering the question, “what image is the winery trying to present to the wine consuming public?” Well, the answers are as varied as the wineries behind these labels. Some of them are trying to position themselves as ultra-premium, over the top, powerhouse wines. Others are wineries that are made up of young winemakers who have a creative streak they want to express. One winery is trying to create as much buzz and excitement about their winery and their wines that they decided the best way to go is to create a series of unique labels that highlight certain aspects of the story behind the winery’s name. Here are just a couple of examples:

Just looking at these particular labels, we have one from Flat Rock Cellars, four from Ontario’s newest winery – Foreign Affair Winery, one from Wayne Gretzky Estates and three from the international line of wines available at Pillitteri Estates Winery. Flat Rock Cellars is widely known to be a maker of excellent wines, especially Pinot Noir and the quality of what is inside the bottle would definitely be consistent with the style of the label if someone were to pick up a bottle of this in a wine shop or local LCBO (if you are in Ontario). The wines from Foreign Affair Winery still have a to be determined feel to them. Their first vintage is released and it has been receiving critical acclaim but the vines are relatively young and there are a lot of factors that could affect the outcome of their wines. Just as an example which will affect all wineries, the 2008 growing season has been plagued by excessive amounts of rain whereas the 2007 vintage is being touted as the vintage of, in some cases, the decade and in some cases the millennium for Ontario – it kind of depends on who you are talking to. Our next label is from one of our recent celebrity wineries in Ontario – Wayne Gretzky Estates. They have chosen to play along with Wayne’s number 99 from his hockey playing years and have created a series of sleek, polished looking labels that compliment the signage at the winery and the bottles they are using. The silver of the labels gives me the feel of the ice that Wayne skates on when he hits the ice. Our final wines are i baci which are the international line of wines produced by Pillitteri Estates Winery. These wines are not 100% Ontario grapes and the labels give an international feel to what people see when perusing the shelves of their wine shop.

Since one person’s tastes in wine are different from another person’s tastes in wine, it is not easy to say which is better. From a personal standpoint, there is a time and place for just about every wine from every winery and where I may choose to use something from i baci or Wayne Gretzky Estates for a big party, I may lean towards an ultra premium winery like Flat Rock Cellars or Foreign Affair Winery for VIP guests or a special dinner. So, what are your thoughts? Is there a wine that you have gravitated towards in the past simply based on the label? What was the wine like inside that intriguing packaging? Would you buy it again?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Calling all People in the Wine Biz!

Are you a winemaker who would like to keep us up to date with what's happening at your vineyards? Or are you a wine writer who would like to post your recent wine reviews? Are there any wine events you would like to promote? Be a Swirlz Wine Blogger! E-mail us for details:

Monday, September 1, 2008


September is going to be a busy month! With interviews planned throughout Canada and California, we are sure to be busy bumblebees around here! However, you won't hear any complaints from us at - how can you complain when your job includes touring beautiful wine regions, talking with interesting winemakers, tasting fabulous wines, and hearing people's wonderful life stories. It doesn't get much better than this! We can't wait...

Stay tuned to the web site during the month of September, as we will be uploading many videos of our wine adventures.

Let us know if you would like us to meet with you during our journey...


Well, we are finally up and running! We will be continually adding new information to the site, so please check back often. If you have any suggestions as well, we would love to hear it. Don't forget chat with your fellow wine lovers on our SwirlzForum. Also, if you know of a wine-related company that you think should be listed on our site, please let us know!